Bengaluru: Crowdfunding, the internet-powered strategy to collect funds for all manner of causes, has so far helped fund Lok Sabha poll campaigns, produce movies, treat and rescue abandoned animals, and fulfil people’s wanderlust. Now, it is helping preserve one of the last bastions of Sanskrit, the ancient Indian language over three millennia old that now lies on the tips of few tongues.
Since the crowdfunding effort began on 17 March this year, nearly 1,000 donors from around the world have helped Sri Acharya Paathashaala in Melukote, Karnataka, gather over Rs 26 lakh.
Also called Anand Ashram, the school is the last Sanskrit school standing in Melukote, which has for centuries been known as the Nalanda of the south.
Just about a decade after it was set up, the school is lying in a shambles, with its nearly 20 students studying under leaking roofs and often going without food.
“The situation of the school is such that the children are learning in a weak structure with a thatched roof, which leaks when it rains,” said Padmini, the secretary of the school, who only goes by her first name.
“During the summers, the asbestos sheet that is above their heads makes the classroom so hot that the children get blisters,” she added.
“This school is in such a state that the children at times do not have enough food to eat,” said a Melukote resident.
“[When we have funds] We have to buy food for months in advance,” the resident added, explaining that this method involved a chance that their supplies might go bad.
The five odd teachers left in the school have not been paid for more than 19 months.
Sanskrit a way of life
Melukote is one among the few remaining centres in India where Sanskrit is not just a language of communication, but a way of life.
It has striven to preserve ancient traditions since it was plundered and destroyed under the 18th-century Mysuru ruler Tipu Sultan.
People in Melukote are educated in Sanskrit and well-versed in the Vedas, the Upanishads and other ancient texts.
This hilltop town 150 km from Bengaluru was home to close to 20 schools that taught subjects ranging from math to geography in Sanskrit, but all have shut down due to lack of funds over the past 10 years.
Sri Acharya Paathashaala was founded by Paramahamsa Ithyadi Satagopa Ramanuja Jeeyar, a famous seer from Srivilliputtur, in 2010. He thought this would be a happy place for children and so called it Anand (happiness) Ashram.
The school today has close to 20 children aged 7 to 14 who study science, mathematics, geography and social sciences in Sanskrit from ancient texts.
It has been recognised by Bangalore University, and has now applied for affiliation to Karnataka Sanskrit University.
“The school has been teaching the Geeta, Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavata, Sri Bhashya and other texts,” said Prof Padma Shekar, Vice-Chancellor of Karnataka Sanskrit University said.
“We have received their application for affiliation. Accordingly, our officials have visited the school and inspected the infrastructure. Based on the report, we will provide support and permission to run classes from this academic year,” he added.
Fight for survival
Over the years, Melukote has remained untouched by the changing times despite its proximity to Karnataka’s capital city, which is also India’s information technology capital. But this cradle of tradition was forced to look outwards in its desperation for survival.
Crowdfunding, which has helped revive several organisations and fuel political campaigns, offered the ideal solution. Anand Ashram officials believed that there would be several benefactors eager to help preserve this sanctuary of Sanskrit — all they had to do was reach out.
As word spread around about the school’s crumbling infrastructure and imminent closure, several professionals and MNCs stepped in with donations.
Ketto, a platform that assists with crowdfunding, has so far helped the school raise Rs 26.5 lakh from over 998 donors based all over the world, from the UK and the US, to Singapore and the Middle East.
“Promotion and preservation of ancient Indian languages is of great importance and the need of the hour,” Ketto CEO Varun Seth said.
“It feels great that our platform was able to harness the power of technology to raise funds for this school, which was on the brink of shutting down, thereby protecting our Indian classical language and strengthening our cultural roots.”
One of the campaigners who participated in the campaign, Vijaya Raghavan, a data scientist based out of Chennai who is also a disciple of the Jeeyar mutt that oversees the school, said crowdfunding had helped them tremendously.
“Initially, when a few of us decided to raise funds for the school, we found it quite difficult. If we had not crowdfunded, we would have raised just around Rs 10 lakh,” he told ThePrint.
“Now we have crossed the 25 lakh mark and hope to build the school to its original glory while giving the children and authorities adequate comfort and facilities,” he added.
This is an updated version of the report
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